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EU seeks to protect young mobile users July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Mobile Telecoms.
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The European Commission is to consider ways in which children can be better protected when using mobile phones.

According to the Commission, which launched a public consultation on the protection of minors using mobiles this week, better safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that children aren’t exposed to harmful or illegal content, bullying, grooming and the risk of unexpectedly high bills.

In the last few years, the use of mobile phones by children and young people has increased dramatically, as have the capabilities of mobile phones. Handsets can now be used for video messaging, entertainment services (downloading games, music and videos), access to the internet and location-based services.

According to a Eurobarometer survey in May 2006, 70 percent of European youngsters aged 12-13 years and 23 percent of children aged 8-9 years own a mobile phone.

In Germany, 92 percent of 12-19-year-olds and 47 percent of 6-13-year-olds were found to own a mobile phone in 2005, while in Britain, the average age for children to be given their first mobile phone has now fallen to eight years old. Moreover, in several EU member states, including Lithuania, Latvia and Greece, children are more likely to have a mobile phone than to have access to the internet.

The European Commission’s consultation aims to gather factual information and views from stakeholders such as parents, industry and consumer groups on the types of risks faced by children in their use of mobile content services. The Commission is also looking at the technical and regulatory solutions that exist and the scope for possible action in terms of legislation.

“Mobile phones are part of our daily lives, not only for adults but also for teenagers and increasingly for younger children. Mobile communication is a great opportunity for the development of Europe’s economies and societies. However, at the same time, the protection of minors needs to be guaranteed”, said Viviane Reding, EU commissioner with responsibility for Information Society and Media.

“In my view, protection of minors in mobile communications is the responsibility of all actors: industry, child safety associations and public bodies. The more efficient self-regulation can become, the less the need for State intervention,” added Reding.

According to the consultation paper, exposure to inappropriate and illegal content, ease of contact by predators, bullying, high expense and exposure to advertising are the risks of mobile phone use which can be readily identified.

The Commission admits these dangers may not be widespread yet because the technology is not fully in place, limited numbers of minors own a 3G handset, and mobile content offerings are still expensive. However, it says that it is an “emerging phenomenon which needs to be followed”.